A National Post article, originally published in January 2012, in response to the end of the Shafia trial asked six members of the South Asian community for their reactions and thoughts on honour killings. Their responses vary, but the one that stands out most clearly as a reflection on Canada’s failure of the women is Raheel Raza‘s paraphrased comment:
“Their communities so failed Zainab, Sahar and Geeti Shafia, aged 19, 17 and 13 and Rona Amir Mohammad, 53, that Ms. Raza wonders if they would have received help had they been four white women instead of four Afghan-Canadians.”
Ms. Raza is referring to the Canadian communities and government services, which had been involved with the family on several occasions, that hadn’t been able to offer sufficient support to the women who were murdered. In one instance a Detective of the Montreal Police responded to a comment made by one of the murdered, Sahar: “I said ‘No freedom?’ You’re well dressed, have nice makeup.”
First published by the National Post on January 30, 2012, written by Sarah Boesveld.
Shafia trial: Six perspectives on ‘honour’ killings in Canada
Shafia Trial: Six perspectives on ‘honour’ killing in Canada
The first-degree murder convictions handed down Sunday to Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya and their son Hamed has prompted a renewed conversation about honour killings in Canada, and what can be done about them. The Post’s Sarah Boesveld collected six perspectives from members of South Asian communities on Monday:
Dr. Amin Muhammad
Professor of psychiatry at Memorial University in Newfoundland
Honour killings have been on the rise in Canada over the past decade, says the professor of psychiatry at Memorial University in Newfoundland. There have been more than a dozen cases since 2002, which is actually very little compared to the United States and the United Kingdom, which have seen hundreds of such killings since then, he says. The Pakistan-born professor thinks news of the Shafia trial outcome will ripple internationally, and warn potential immigrants that the practice won’t be tolerated here. And, he hopes, the outcome will make people more vigilant now. “So many people approach for help and intervention in the past were not taken seriously, even those potential victims that don’t have the courage to come and speak openly about it,” he says. “Now at least it will give them a little courage.”
Nazira Naz Tareen
Founder and past president, Ottawa Muslim Women’s Organization
While the Shafia family’s Muslim faith played a role in the criminal proceedings, note that Islam does not condone killings in order to preserve honour, says the India-born founder and past president of the Ottawa Muslim Women’s Organization. “The Quaran says if you kill one human being, it’s like you’ve killed all of humanity,” she says. “If you save one human being, it’s like you’ve saved all of humanity.” The Shafias committed murder and “it’s totally, totally cultural and it’s totally against the teachings of Islam.” Since many Muslims read the Quaran in Arabic, they may not glean that the Prophet Muhammad actually afforded women more rights than men and that children no longer answer to parents in their teen years —they answer to God, she says. Most countries are misinterpreting Sharia law to mean the Prophet’s urging to “protect” women really means to control them, she adds.
Activist and author of Their Jihad, Not My Jihad
Their communities so failed Zainab, Sahar and Geeti Shafia, aged 19, 17 and 13 and Rona Amir Mohammad, 53, that Ms. Raza wonders if they would have received help had they been four white women instead of four Afghan-Canadians. “Was this political correctness to a painful degree?” asks the Toronto-based activist and author of Their Jihad, Not My Jihad. It’s time to stop being so sensitive in the name of preserving multiculturalism, she says.. “Immigrants bring this excess baggage with them and as a community, our biggest problem is that we remain in denial and we can’t address the issues,” says the Pakistan-born Ms. Raza. “What this verdict has done is open the door to a great deal of debate and discussion. I think we have a long, long way to go.” While Canada wants its immigrants to integrate, when there are problems, they tend to be “ghettoized,” she says, and, with a mind for sensitivity, it’s “their culture, their problem…But what is sensitivity in comparison to four lives?”
CEO of the Punjabi Community Health Centre in Brampton, Ont.
“I think it’s more of a men’s issue because the honour we talk about is predominately perpetuated by men,” says the CEO of the Punjabi Community Health Centre in Brampton, Ont. Every Saturday, 25 to 40 South Asian men gather in a men’s group and discuss the challenges of raising a family in a liberal Canada that functions differently from the traditional society they left behind. “There hasn’t been an opportunity for men to have a discussion around what constitutes an honour [here in Canada],” says Mr. Mutta, who emmigrated from India. He does get pushback from those who feel he’s giving his community a bad name by speaking out, but he’s more encouraged by the men in his sessions who are reframing their worldview. “We never shame men, we want them to own that every man makes mistakes.”
Executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women
The Kingston, Ont.-based executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women has trouble with the word “honour killing.” She prefers to call it “customary killing” since it’s maintaining patriarchal customs. But the Shafia case went above and beyond that to blatant, outright “femicide” —and it reveals a greater need for gender equality. “If you look deeper, that’s what this issue is. Why do men think, in this patriarchy, that they have the control and the power to kill somebody because…[they think] they are doing the wrong thing or are deviant?” She believes these kinds of killings can happen in any culture that’s dominated by men. “Do you think the Mormons, who have been here for generations, don’t have patriarchy?” she asks. “Anywhere there’s patriarchy, which allows you to say ‘Men have to be the protectors and guardians of women’ is heading for trouble.” Despite cases like the Shafias’, she believes Canada is doing a good job to combat these kinds of killings. Police and social workers are better educated and family law has been brought up to date.
Child and Family Therapist
When Ms. Karmali looks at the Shafia murder case, she doesn’t see an honour killing. Rather, she sees a complicated stew of emotions, expectations, conflict and a father well versed in the ways of the Western world, having lived in Australia and elsewhere before coming to Canada. She also understands where the shame and embarrassment element comes from. After all, she sees it routinely in her office, as a registered social worker, child, marriage and family therapist in Edmonton who counsels many immigrant families who seek her out because of her East-African/Muslim background. “That still doesn’t justify the behaviour to me. There’s nothing to justify abuse,” she says. Even when considering cultural background, safety is always the most important thing. “Oftentimes what I will talk with families about is good intentions. Usually, I think those [strict actions] come from a place of good intentions, but sometimes there’s a disconnect.”